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Sunday, September 13, 2009

Tour of Missouri: What's next?

With big, enthusiastic crowds, many of the biggest names of cycling and exciting stage finishes, you might think the future is bright for the Tour of Missouri.

Instead, the Tour of Missouri is jeopardy.

The state's three-year contract with Atlanta-based Medalist Sports expires after this year's race, and it's extremely uncertain whether the state will be willing to provide major financial backing for the race in 2010 and beyond.

As you recall, the 2009 Tour was threatened when Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon's administration proposed cutting $1.5 million in state money for the event. Republican Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder and others successfully motivated more than 1,000 people to contact Nixon to restore the money, which he finally did.

In a story by The Associated Press, Kinder plans to send a letter Monday to Nixon about the Tour's future. Nixon seems to be interested in listening, even if he didn't attend a single stage of this year's race.

"It seems to build each year in interest, in excitement and viewership," Nixon said. "I think if we can put aside other differences and pull together, we can pull off an even better 2010 Tour of Missouri."

Kinder and Nixon agree on one thing: More private sponsorship money is needed to support the race. Frankly, however, I think getting a Missouri company to provide title sponsorship for the Tour of Missouri will be a hard sell.

Another AP story indicated the 2009 tour received about $1.34 million in corporate backing. However, the same story noted that Monsanto, the St. Louis-based agribusiness that donated at least $100,000 in 2008, didn't donate anything in 2009. Emerson, a St. Louis-based technology company, cut its donation in half.

The lack of a title sponsor forced Medalist and race organizers to pull the plug on the Tour of Georgia for at least this year.

Thanks to cities like St. Louis, Kansas City, Rolla and St. Joseph, among others, attendance for the 2009 Tour of Missouri is expected to exceed 2008's estimated crowd of 435,000. Last year's race pumped in an estimated $29.2 million to the state, arguably a good investment for state government.

Future host cities: If there is a 2010 Tour of Missouri, expect Hannibal to make a big push to bring the Tour into the northeastern corner of the Show-Me State for the first time. Hannibal pushed hard to get this year's race to pay a visit, but lost out to Cape Girardeau, which happens to be Kinder's hometown. Next year, Hannibal is marking the 100th anniversary of the death of legendary author Mark Twain, so the Tour would bring another reason for tourists to visit the city and its Mark Twain attractions.

Undoubtedly, Springfield will try to bring the Tour back to the state's third largest metropolitan area. Springfield and nearby Branson were host cities for the 2007 and 2008 Tours, but the Tour skipped southwestern Missouri this year.

It's a given that St. Louis and Kansas City would host stages, and communities like Rolla and St. Joseph helped their causes to be host cities for future Tours.

The biggest disappointment was the relatively small crowd for the Stage 2 finish in Cape Girardeau. Organizers had hoped for a crowd of 30,000, but crowd estimates indicated only 5,000 near the finish line. The Southeast Missourian also reported mixed results from businesses the day of the Tour.

(The photo of the final sprint of Stage 1 in St. Louis was taken by Doug Kaufman.)

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